By: Brian Scott Lipton
At age 84, A.R. Gurney is writing like he’s running out of time. That seems as good an explanation as any for “Love & Money,” now getting its New York premiere at The Pershing Square Signature Center. This veteran chronicler of WASP life clearly still has some important truths to convey — here, about the power of money to make people act foolishly or even badly – but one suspects a younger Gurney would have taken the time to iron out the play’s many inconsistencies and sloppy plot points.
Even its premise, as conveyed in Mark Lamos’ often entertaining production, makes little sense. Ultra-wealthy New York widow Cornelia Cunningham has decided to give away all her earthly possessions (no matter how valuable), donate most of her vast fortune to charity, and move out of her splendid townhouse (nicely designed by Michael Yeargan) and into some sort of eldercare facility. That would be fine if Cornelia was in ill health or about to lose her mind or was 103. But as portrayed with great sharpness and physical agility by the wonderful Maureen Anderman (in an almost must-see turn), Cornelia hardly seems like someone who would be taking such drastic action.
However, word of her “plan” has apparently been spread through an article in her hometown Buffalo newspaper, as she is informed by her ultra-concerned young lawyer Harvey Abel (Joe Paulik, making the most out of a thoroughly unbelievable character). Moreover, Harvey has a bigger bombshell: a young man named Walker Williams has now claimed to be the illegitimate son of Cornelia’s late daughter, and wants part of her fortune. And before you can say “gin martini,” Walker (Gabriel Brown) – a seemingly polished and well-educated African-American college student who calls himself Scott, after Fitzgerald – has appeared on Cornelia’s doorstep. He instantly bonds with his “grandmother,” presenting a slightly tall tale and some flimsy evidence to back up his claim, making us wonder if Cornelia is going to reverse course.
It seems odd that Gurney would practically steal this plotline from John Guare’s “Six Degrees of Separation,” and do it so baldly and badly. Let’s just say that Cornelia isn’t exactly Ouisa Kitteredge, and this play has a different (and only vaguely satisfying) outcome.
For all the play’s flaws, one must credit director Mark Lamos for doing his utmost to smooth them over through his sprightly pacing and the work of his five-person cast, which also includes the very funny Pamela Dunlap as Cornelia’s tart-tongued maid Agnes, and Kahyun Kim in the seemingly unnecessary part of Juilliard student Jessica (who shows up and sings some Cole Porter for little reason).
In fact, Harvey also warbles some Porter, specifically “Get Out of Town.” Sadly, “Love & Money,” really needed some more time out of town (besides a brief summer run at the Westport Country Playhouse) before hitting the Big Apple. www.signaturetheater.org
Photos: Joan Marcus